Tamil Nadu: How Urban Local Governments Can Work Better | Chennai News
The din and the dust of the elections have just settled in and the elected officials have taken up their duties, raising the expectations of the citizens. However, experience has shown that the framework in which ULBs operate hardly inspires hope for dynamic change.
More than a third of TN’s population lives in urban areas. The challenges of sustainable development in these regions require urgent attention. Faced with such a situation, here are three main challenges to making local authorities effective.
First of all, the provisions of the Constitution, the 74th amendment more precisely, entrust elected officials with the mandate to ensure the proper functioning of local bodies. However, in practice, the functions of elected officials often clash with those of the bureaucracy, namely the commissioners of corporations and municipalities. Their respective fields of action have yet to be clearly defined, hence recurring conflicts, particularly in local authorities where the opposition party is in the majority. So that’s the first challenge to solve. The state government must establish definite boundaries to avoid these graceless altercations.
Second, there is the incomplete allocation of functions to the ULBs and the consolidation of many essential and important local functions to so-called parastatals. In Chennai, for example, the company is entrusted with certain local functions related to solid waste management, maintenance of street lights and roads, regulation of building construction, regulation of municipal markets, provision of primary education and primary health services, as well as some other obligations and discretionary roles.
However, important related subjects that matter so much for the good governance of the ULB are cut out and entrusted to parastatal bodies. Water supply and sewerage falls under the responsibility of Chennai Water Supply and Sewerage Board, land use planning/overall development plan becomes the province of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, bus transport in Chennai is under the responsibility of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation, slum regulation is by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board and so on. Here again, borders are veiled, powers diminished and, as a result, governance by elected officials becomes ineffective.
Third, the poor allocation of financial resources by the state to local communities. The State, which continues to complain of a miserly allocation of financial resources by the Centre, gives way to the same accusation brought by the ULB against it. The state government must ensure that it leaves no room for such complaints so that businesses and municipalities can operate.
On the above three issues, most state governments are guilty of over-centralization and poor democratic decentralization of powers. With great fanfare, 21 mayors were elected and supported in TN. Unfortunately, however, their role is largely ceremonial. They are not vested with any additional power to that of the other councilors except that of convening the meeting of the council of the corporation.
Architect Jaime Lerner, who became mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, in 1971, implemented the world’s first bus rapid transit system for his city. This has garnered praise and attempts are being made to replicate it in other parts of the globe. Rudy Giuliani, as mayor of New York, won acclaim for his leadership following the terrorist attack in his city in September 2001. Xavier Trias, on becoming mayor of Barcelona in 2011, designed and implemented “Smart City Barcelona” work that makes the Spanish capital a global showcase.
All of this will never happen in Indian cities because, notwithstanding the 74th Amendment to the Constitution, their mayors are woefully inefficient authorities with weak powers and responsibilities.
The goal of local government empowerment is to enhance popular participation and bring democratic governance as close as possible to citizens.
It is only when the efforts of elected officials are truly empowered that citizens can understand the connection between their votes and the consequences in terms of the delivery of public goods and services.
The ever-increasing migration of the rural population to urban areas would pose formidable challenges to urban governance. There is undeniable evidence to demonstrate that the existing governance framework is not equipped to meet such challenges. This can only be achieved by implementing the provisions of the 74th Amendment in spirit and substance. Such an approach has the potential to give our ULBs the means to act quickly, efficiently and responsibly.
(The author is a senior barrister in the High Court of Madras)